Nationals righty Joe Ross is slated to undergo Tommy John surgery, manager Dave Martinez informed reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). He recently suffered a setback in his recovery from a UCL tear in his throwing elbow.
It’s the second career TJS for Ross, who also went under the knife in July 2017. The former first-round pick returned from that procedure at the tail end of the following campaign, but he’s unfortunately dealt with subsequent health issues. He stayed healthy in 2019, splitting the season between the big league bullpen and the Triple-A rotation, then opted out of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 concerns.
Ross came back last season and tied a career-high with 19 starts, but he was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear in his elbow last August. He was understandably reluctant to go back under the knife at the time, and he and the organization proceeded with a non-surgical rehab course. That still cost him the remainder of the season, and he underwent a cleanup procedure to remove some bone spurs from his elbow this spring. After opening the year on the 60-day injured list, Ross headed out on a minor league rehab assignment last week.
Unfortunately, he completed just three innings before dealing with renewed elbow tightness. A subsequent MRI revealed more ligament damage than initially expected, and Ross will no longer be able to avoid another Tommy John procedure. Martinez didn’t specify a timeline on his recovery, but given Ross’ prior injury history, he may be in for a lengthier absence than the typical 14-16 month rehab time for a UCL replacement.
The news will obviously end Ross’ 2022 season before it begins, and it’s likely to cost him most or all of 2023 as well. The disappointing series of events means he’ll have gone two-plus calendar years between appearances, aside from last week’s abbreviated rehab start. Last year’s 108 innings pitched marked a personal high, so it’s to be seen what kind of workload he’d be able to assume in 2024.
It’s also not clear for whom he’ll be playing at that point. Ross is in his final season of arbitration control, and he’ll reach free agency for the first time in his career at season’s end. He’s a candidate for a low-salary two-year contract, which would afford him the opportunity to rehab with team supervision and receive some pay next year while the signing club eyes his 2024 production. Ross could also rehab on his own and seek out a free agent deal by conducting a showcase whenever he’s healthy enough to again throw.
In the interim, Ross will spend this season on Washington’s 60-day IL. He’ll collect a $2.4MM salary, to which he and the club agreed over the winter to avoid an arbitration hearing. The Nationals will be without one of their most productive starters for the entire season, and the retooling club loses a potential midseason trade possibility. As an impending free agent on a last place team, Ross would’ve been a viable trade target for contenders in search of rotation depth were he healthy.